I get the sense from Family Perfume Vol. 1 And 2 that California psych scholar Tim Presley views his four-track tape deck with the same sort of wide-eyed wonderment that Captain Picard views the Enterprise’s Holo-deck. A single unassuming box of churning gears enables Presley—our fearless leader on this 29-track, double-disc journey across the final frontier of one man’s psych-rock reverence—to safely enact all of his time-warped musical fantasies in the comfort of his own bedroom. Try to count his slips into rock royalty impersonation: how Presley lays a Syd Barrett warble above the unspooling guitars of “Upstart Girls”; how he clears his throat of hookah smoke (or something more nefarious) in a convincing Jimi baritone on “Anna”; how he accepts on everyone’s behalf that long-promised drive in McCartney’s car on “A Good Night.” But ultimately Presley’s favorite voice is his own, stacked in three- or four-part harmonies that intone with hymnal conviction that old rock gospel: “Just chill, man.”
Unlike Hair, Presley’s recent collaboration with fellow SoCal rock lifer Ty Segall, the attraction of this collection does not come from jittery artistic tension or even excitement. Hair was a big hot ball of retro rock that refused to sit still and threatened to break apart at any moment. Copies of the record should’ve been issued with a sweat rag. Family Perfume, the culmination of a year’s worth of Presley’s solo home recordings, should come with a complimentary stick of incense.
Presley’s tool of choice for navigating his psychedelic fantasy planet is a tape deck whose analog fuzz is the atmosphere hanging above and boxing in each trippy track. Layered acoustic and electric guitar phrases join in gibberish conversations that entwine or unwind as Presley tinkers with the tracking, and canned drum samples tick, titter and tumble back onto themselves at double-time at Tim’s whim. It only takes a passive listen to the kaleidoscopic bender of “She Relief” to see why Ty Segall labels his bud’s collection as “freak your fucking mom out cause she caught you naked in the backyard blasting this shit rock.” Tracks like “Stomach Sexes”and “Upstart Girls” are born for nudie backyard grooves. But there’s just as much room in Presley’s playhouse for slower moments of beanbag-chair philosophy (“I am a Sunday, and the sun does paint my head”).
The unpredictable mix incites some strange transitions, occasionally cutting off promising grooves to the album’s detriment (“Groundskeeper Rag,” especially, peaks prematurely). But what Family Perfume lacks in momentum it makes up for in brevity, never lingering on one motif for more than two or three minutes before skipping enthusiastically into the next like an overeager basement party DJ. And that’s ultimately the hat Presley wears most often amidst his personal rock fantasy seminar. While he anxiously switches songs and recites the tales of their personal and cultural significance to everyone lounging around the room, they’d be hard-pressed to guess that every album in Presley’s crate has his own face on the cover.